Saskatchewan

Sask. man says massive sports memorabilia collection stolen from locked storage unit

“My biggest fear is that it's going to end up in a trash can," Aron Gratias said.

'My biggest fear is that it's going to end up in a trash can,' Aron Gratias says

One of many hockey jerseys from Aron Gratias's collection. (Aron Gratias)

Thousands of items in an extensive sports memorabilia collection have been stolen from a storage unit in northern Saskatchewan, according to the collection's owner. 

Aron Gratias said he had been storing his collection in a 40-foot locked storage container near Shellbrook while he relocated to Emma Lake.

The memorabilia included a Wayne Gretzky rookie card along with signed, authenticated hockey jerseys. 

Gratias said the collection — focused almost entirely on Gretzky memorabilia — included thousands of hockey cards along with pictures, game tickets and hockey sticks, some signed by the Great One.

"My biggest fear is that it's going to end up in a trash can or a dumpster or a landfill somewhere." Gratias said. 

Aron Gratias and his son with hockey legends Gordie Howe and Wayne Gretzky. (Aron Gratias)

When Gratias's father-in-law went to check on the farm over the weekend, he noticed that the locks were broken on one of the storage units and the door was open.

Gratias, who was away working, asked his wife Tera to check and see what might be missing. 

"When she got there, she knew right away what they were after. Everything, every piece of the collection was gone," he said, adding that the thieves bypassed other, valuable household goods in favour of the sports memorabilia.

The couple reported the theft to local RCMP, which opened a file on the case Gratias said.

To me it was priceless.- Aron Gratias

In response to a CBC request, the RCMP submitted a list of items that have been stolen.

They include:

  • 19 Gretzky jerseys, autographed.
  • Large Gretzky pictures and large painting, all autographed.
  • Autographed sticks.
  • Autographed pucks all in display cases.
  • Close to 10,000 cards including 2,200 of Gretzky, some autographed and one framed Gretzky Rookie Card PSA 8.
  • 1979 Mattel dolls still in boxes.
  • Figurines, some autographed.
  • Team Canada autographed photos.

"Lots of people have asked me what I thought my collection was worth. To me it was priceless," Gratias said.

"A lot of these items won't ever be able to be replaced."

Jack Jensen, owner of West Edmonton Coin and Stamp, specializes in selling sports memorabilia.

He said a signed, authenticated Wayne Gretzky hockey jersey could sell for $2,000 and a stick could go for $1,000 to $2,000.

"Some of them can be expensive."

Jensen said it's not uncommon to see sports memorabilia stolen for resale. 

"These days, eBay, Kijiji, online is where most of these criminals sell this stuff, because there's not a lot of tracking."

Infatuated with Gretzky since childhood

Gratias first became obsessed with Gretzky as a child playing hockey in Saskatoon.

In the 1980s, a relative who worked in Winnipeg was given some promotional material including a hockey stick and trading cards signed by Gretzky. He then passed them on to Gratias.

Thus began his 40-year-long infatuation.

"Even as a young collector everyone was collecting all types of players and my infatuation was to get as many Gretzky cards as I could," he said.

"I think it was just the smarts he had for the game, his play, his finesse."

Hockey memorabilia lining the walls of Aron Gratias's home. (Aron Gratias)

Gratias did collect some items from other players over the years, including items from Sidney Crosby and Edmonton Oilers player Chris Pronger.

But the vast bulk of his collection was devoted to Gretzky.

"I had binders of Gretzky cards, of strictly Gretzky. I think my last count was 2,100, 2,200 Gretzky cards alone," he said.

"The collection was a life history of passion. That was something I enjoyed doing on my time off. I loved showing it off as well. I loved bragging about it."

Gratias' favourite items included Gretzy's Canada Cup jerseys from 1984 and 1987 and an Olympic Jersey from 1998. He also had a picture signed by Gretzky of Gratias holding the Stanley Cup.

Gratias said people have shared his story all over North America and Europe in hopes of finding some of his collection.

"You know, this collection was what's going to be passed down to my children and generations."

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